my bread and butter (and jam)

IMG_7604We finished the team-taught experimental University of Oregon Clark Honors College “Bread 101” class on Monday, with students bringing in their final projects: loaves of bread baked with sourdough starter they cultivated during the term.  You can see all the pictures chronicling the 10-week experience here.

Just so we’d have all the bases covered, I made some butter and brought along a few jams for the tasting.  A student requested a recipe, so I present them to you here, yeastily, in case you want to eat eight loaves of bread in a sitting, too.  IMG_7622IMG_7606 It was a wonderful class, and I’m so grateful I had a chance to be a part of it.  Working with the scientists was so much fun, and we all improved our pedagogy and learned a great deal from each other.  And the class itself was a delight. Several of the students, mostly graduating seniors, were ones I had had as freshmen during my four years teaching in the Honors College, and it was a pleasure to see how they had developed as thinkers and writers.  That’s really the reward in teaching, and as I ponder the next phase in my life, I’m thankful that I can have this experience to cherish, a truly innovative course that I can say with no guile or guilt is part of the revolution that needs to happen in higher education.  A Pisgah sight of Paradise, I suppose, but I’m happy to have had it.

Congratulations to the graduates; may you earn good bread in both literal and metaphorical ways, and may your slices always fall with the butter side up!

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Homemade Butter

Butter can easily be made cultured by souring the milk overnight on the counter with a little cultured buttermilk mixed in.  I suggest using about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Makes about 1 cup butter and 1 cup of fresh buttermilk.

Take one pint of the best whipping cream you can find, preferably not ultra-pasteurized.  (Strauss makes a good product.)  It’s best if it’s somewhere between ice cold and room temperature.  Place it in your mixer’s bowl and whip with the whisk attachment on high for about 8 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until the whipped cream “breaks” into solid bits and liquid.  Stop when it looks like grains of rice in swampy liquid.  You can also try this by hand with a whisk or by shaking it in a jar if you are a masochist.

Drain the liquid from the solids in a fine-mesh sieve for about 20 minutes, then add salt if you wish, mixing thoroughly.  Press as much liquid out as you can using a wooden spoon or similar.   Pack into a jar and refrigerate.

Boysenberry-Kaffir Lime Jam (low sugar)

This recipe is an adaptation of one for “sour blackberries” on the Pomona pectin recipe insert. It makes 4-5 half-pints for canning.  If you want to make it and give it away to friends, there’s no need to can the jam as long as you keep the jars in the refrigerator.  I’m providing basic canning instructions if you’d like to give it a try, though.  The pectin is necessary to make the jam low sugar, and I’ve chosen what I consider the best commercial pectin for low sugar spreads, Pomona.  It uses its own process with calcium water, so it can’t be substituted.  If you’d like to make a full sugar jam with no pectin, try a recipe like my roasted blackberry jam instead, substituting boysenberries and lime juice/lime leaves for the lemon.

  • 1 box Pomona Pectin (do not substitute other kinds of pectin)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • half-flat of boysenberries (or enough to make 4 cups of mashed fruit, about 6-7 cups)
  • 2 t. lime juice
  • 2 t. finely minced fresh kaffir lime leaf
  • 2 t. calcium water (see below)
  • 2 t. pectin powder

For canning: Prepare calcium water: combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon calcium powder (in the small packet in your box of Pomona’s Pectin) in a little jar with a lid, since there will be some left over for future batches. Shake well and store in the refrigerator.

Mix 2 cups of sugar with 2 teaspoons of pectin powder (in the large packet in the box).

Bring to a boil enough water in a large stockpot or waterbath canner to cover 5 half-pint jars.  Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Examine fruit for leaves and dirt; quickly rinse, if especially dusty.  Mash enough of the berries to make 4 cups of pulp and place in a large pot, leaving space for the mixture to bubble up.  Add 2 teaspoons of calcium water, lime juice, and minced kaffir lime leaves, mix well, and bring to a boil.

Add sugar mix and stir vigorously to melt pectin.  Bring back up to a boil and let boil for a minute.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.

Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.  Let sit in canner for a few minutes, then remove jars carefully and let cool, undisturbed, overnight.  Remove the rings and check the seals, refrigerating any that didn’t seal.  The jam will keep over a year on the shelf if the seals are intact; a couple of months in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

silky wild plum jam

IMG_3945Well, the bright side is that I keep getting tiny signs from the universe that there’s a branch over my head just laden with juicy, impossibly blueberry bloomy blue fruit, ripe for the plucking.  It’s just a matter of timing and overcoming myopia and finding a stable ladder. I’m trying, and so far I’ve been pelted on the head a few dozen times and threatened by an overhanging spider and infested with earwigs and ants enjoying their lunch.  I’m pretty sure something dropped down into my bra and bit me where the sun don’t shine.  But always a little fear in pleasure, in possibility.

So. Jam. To measure the sugar you need and get a sense of the yield, you’ll need to imagine how the plums will reduce to a purée once cooked. I filled a standard colander with 5 and a half pounds of small plums, and used 4 cups of sugar in a single 5-quart pot. It yielded 7 half-pints. Your needs will vary.

This jam is all about found fruit, especially the ornamental “cherry plums,” the golfball-sized drupes that cover those pesky feral plum trees that spring up all over the place, including your yard. I had a yellow one in Berkeley, cut down a red one in my yard in Eugene, understood when the neighbors cut down the burgundy-foliaged one in their yard.  It also works for Damsons or Santa Rosas or any juicy, smallish fruit fresh from the orchard.  The recipe is adapted from Linda Ziedrich‘s damson plum recipe, in fact.  I kept the flavor simple, as it really can’t be improved.  You might add a slug of slivovitz at the end, or perhaps a tiny bit of clove.

You won’t be cooking this one terribly long, a blessing in the heat. Plums have plenty of pectin; that’s the silky texture. Wild plums have clingstone pits, so plan on cooking them in and straining them out later.

Silky Wild Plum Jam

I like what plum skins do to jam, coloring and flavoring it, but if you strain them out with a food mill, the jam will be a wonderful soft, clean, pure texture — perfect on skin, as a friend says.

  • Small cherry plums
  • Sugar (3/4 cup per cup of plum purée)

Rinse ripe plums just after picking, and place in covered pot with a bit of water (no more than a half cup).  Simmer for about 10 minutes until the skins burst, then uncover and stir, pressing the flesh down with a spatula or spoon. Simmer for another 10 minutes until plums have fallen apart.  Pits may or may not rise to the surface.  You will be lucky if they do.

Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.  Skim, strain, and squeeze the pulp from the skin and pits.  You might try a mesh colander or a food mill.  This process may be difficult and messy, as some plums won’t yield up their pits easily, so you may find even a food mill ineffective.  If worse comes to worse, don a pair of food service gloves and pluck the pits out with your fingers, squeezing them to get all flesh off.

Once you have a pot full of delicious pulp, measure it.  For each cup of pulp, add 3/4 cups of sugar and begin the jam process.

Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Cook jam down over medium high heat until it thickens and passes a gel test (perhaps 15 minutes?), stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon the hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

california in a jar

IMG_3406On my way back to Eugene, I was feeling a little bitter and sorry for myself because I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do in California thanks to the funeral side trip to Michigan.  I had planned to take a longer route down, a solo road trip, that would allow me to visit colleagues and friends and explore a bit of California’s Central Valley, America’s bread basket.

The Central Valley, according to an NPR story, is “the greatest garden in the world” and reports that it produces 25% of the nation’s food.  As someone who lives in America’s former bread basket, the Willamette Valley of central Oregon, I view it with an amateur historian’s eye — fascinated and horrified by commercial farming practices that turn a fertile crescent of land into monocultures ruled by pesticides.  In particular, I was thinking of investigating a little farm or two that might be growing unusual olives to spite those black marbles we see on the grocery story shelves or those awful huge pyramid-shaped flavorless strawberries that weren’t meant for shipping.

The funeral dashed my hopes and free time, but I got lucky anyway, and stopped at a few local produce stands along highway 505 at Winters and I-5 near Williams.  And found what I was not expecting, including a nut wall made of shipping containers that separated an auto business from a popular taco truck in Winters.  (I snapped this shot while waiting for my lengua tacos for my friend John Mariani, no relation, and told him his detractors were at it again.)

IMG_3409Most notably, Royal apricots were up and running at the Double R Ranch produce stand in Winters, so a picked up half a flat with some olive oil from Knabke Farms.  I only found out later that Heath Ranch Organics in Orland grows fantastic and wonderful varieties of citrus fruits as part of a 30-some-year relationship with experimental research scientists needing a demo farm.  (That’s their gas pump and sign, above.) If I had known Ron and Melanie Heath were so cool, I would have stayed longer and asked to tour the farm, but we did have a quick chat about blood oranges and Sevilles as we snacked on the absolutely best Valencia oranges I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I managed to leave with some of those oranges, a blue star thistle honey bear, a pound of pistachios grown and roasted down the road, and a pound of red wine-marinated kalamata olives.

IMG_4653Of course, I needed to rush right home and bottle it all up.

The Québécois make a conserve called nougabricot that famed jammière, the Alsatian pastry chef Christine Ferber, has made famous.  With all due respect to my French-Canadian ancestors, I think nougabricot sounds like a mouthful of marbles, and a conserve made of apricots, almonds, pistachios, oranges, lemons, and honey is really a California thing, so I have taken the liberty to rename it:

California in a Jar

A conserve of apricots, almonds, and pistachios.  Yield 6 half pints.

  • 2.75 lbs. ripe but not overripe apricots (choose an heirloom variety like Royals or Royal Blenheims if you can)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. dark honey (Ferber suggests chestnut, I used avocado honey for the California theme)
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios (unsalted or rinsed if they are salted)
  • few dashes rose water (optional)

Wash, pit, and quarter apricots.  Very large apricots should be cut in pieces.  Wash and sterilize your jars and prepare two-piece lids.

In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a simmer, then pour into a glass or stainless bowl, cover with parchment paper, as any apricots left exposed will oxidize to brown, and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, strain the solids from the liquids and place liquids in your preserving pan.  Heat the liquids until they are syrupy and reach a temperature of 220 degrees, which will allow some thickening to occur (but it will still be a loose-set product).

Add the solids to the syrup and bring to a vigorous boil, then keep at a boil for five minutes. Let sit off heat for five minutes and skim foam. Add a few dashes of rosewater if you like, and ladle product into sterilized jars.

For processing, fill to 1/4 inch from top, pressing down apricots and nuts under syrup to combat oxidization problem, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.  Between you and me, I think this one really should be kept fresh and in the refrigerator, so I didn’t process the jars.  The hot conserve “sealed” the lids after I added the product, but it is a weak seal and I must stress a refrigerator is necessary if you don’t waterbath can the jars.

respect your elders

IMG_4599If you still have elderflowers, and I suspect I will even with the rain and my ill-timed travel, consider making elderflower sugar this year.   Mine are Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty,’ one of the newish mahogany-leaved cultivars of the more common European elderberry.  I often use the flowers for strawberry jam, but am thinking of infusing sugar so I can use it for other preparations throughout the year if the sugar mutes the particular scent that some consider cat urine-like and others call lemony.  De gustibus non disputandum est.

Can’t quite commit to picking fluttery flowers?  Wait for the berries and make hedgerow jam or jelly, as I’m planning to do this spring with my already ripe haskapberries (!) and frozen elderberries, gooseberries, and bramble fruit that make up my various spindly hedges.

Most important with elderberries is to know that the plant stems, leaves, and roots are poisonous, and even the berries have toxins in them if eaten raw.  Don’t fret; if you cook the ripe berries of black or blue varieties (e.g., Sambucus canadensis or Sambucus nigra, but do check reliable sources for toxicity information on your variety because it’s a bit confusing) you’ll be ok.  Check out Hank Shaw’s posts on effective ways to remove the stems of flowers for elderflower fritters or effective removal of the stems of ripe berries by freezing them for such lovely delicacies as elderberry syrup.  You’ll also need to know that there are tiny seeds in the berries that are best strained out.

In other elder news, I recently had an excellent elderflower beer, Cazeau Saison, at San Francisco’s haut biergarten, The Abbot’s Cellar.  It had a big white head and an icy fresh green taste, something along the lines of crushed wet chervil.  The elderberry washed-rind English cheddar purchased at Corti Bros. in Sacramento was not nearly as good, with the berries just used as a pretty pink dye.

Hedgerow jam or jelly is a British autumn tradition, a delectable mixed fruit concoction made with fruits that can be gathered in the countryside or from your own hedges in an edible garden.  It often contains blackberries, sloes, rose hips, hawthorn and crabapples, sometimes even nuts.

For a traditional English recipe, try this link featuring hazelnuts.  I’d probably refrigerate this one or any recipe containing nuts or lower sugar than tested American ones either with or without pectin, both for safety and to keep the flavors as vibrant as possible.  When you’re combining fruits, you will have variable issues with gel set because of the natural pectin content in the fruits you choose, so don’t feel you need to be a perfectionist about this one.

I’ll post my hedgerow jelly recipe and method soon!

apple pectin stock jelly

This year, I was gifted with a bag of just underripe Gravensteins, so I decided to make French jam maven Christine Ferber’s recipe for apple pectin stock jelly. This is one of those nose-to-tail recipes that please me greatly, like corncob broth or overgrown cucumber mustard pickles or Japanese spinach crown salad, because it emphasizes how one can keep costs under control when cooking with high quality fresh produce.

I’ve been making a quince pectin stock for the past couple of years, and the apple pectin stock is similar — you just boil down the fruit with its peel, core, and seeds, until it is mushy, then gently strain out the fruit and boil it down again by a third or half before freezing in 1/2 cup chunks. Tigress in a Jam has a good, free-form recipe for apple stock pectin with no sugar if you need it.  I prefer quince stock pectin, because I find apple juice unpleasant and like quince, but keep in mind that quince has a very unique and persistent flavor that will be evident in your jam.

But Ferber takes the simple boiled apples or quinces to the next level with her jelly, which is shelf-stable and can be used to glaze a fruit tart or roast as well as to fortify jam with low-pectin fruit.  The flavor is extremely mild, so it’s not really your go-to morning jelly for toast; it’s more about the texture and pectin powers.  Plus, mine turned a pretty salmon pink, slightly oddly given the green juice.  (You’ll also notice that there are hundreds of tiny bubbles in mine — this is due to not letting the jelly sit for 5 minutes before canning.  Not a big deal unless you are sending it off to the fair.)

To make the pectin stock jelly most potent, use underripe fruit.  Any apple will be high in pectin, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you use “green” apples, not Granny Smiths, but underripe apples of any variety.  Hence, it’s a good use for apples that need to be thinned early to encourage good fruit on your own trees.  In the Willamette Valley, you can start as early as June with our early-ripening ‘Transparent’ variety.  Northern Californians might try Gravensteins, which have short stems that want to abort young apples anyway.  Dunno if the variety alters the taste.

Ferber uses a cup per kilo (about two and a quarter pounds, or one batch) of fruit for her preserves, but I’ve seen reports of using anywhere from one to one-half cup on the Internets.  Do keep in mind that this jelly has sugar in it, and it’s intended for a full sugar/French-style preserve.  It’s also beautifully natural and dependent upon the ingredients and seasons, hence relatively unreliable, so you should plan for softer or firmer sets when you experiment with adding it to recipes.  For low-sugar jams, I’d stick with Pomona pectin.

We’ll be using it with our lavender fig preserves on Monday.  I’ll let you know what happens!  Edited to add: Worked like a charm.  We added 1/2 cup to a double batch after it was boiling heartily, and the gel set rather quickly — I might try a full cup next time.

Interested in a full-flavored apple cider jelly that’s the essence of autumn, made with the season’s first crisp cider?  See my award-winning recipe here.

Ferber’s Green Apple Pectin Stock Jelly

Slightly adapted and annotated.  Makes about 4 half-pints.

  • 7 cups water
  • Juice of one large lemon, with one tablespoon separated out
  • 3 1/2 pounds underripe apples
  • 4 2/3 cups sugar

Fill a large, squat stockpot with water and one tablespoon of lemon juice.

Wash apples, remove stems, and pare away bad spots.  Cut each entire apple into quarters and drop it immediately into acidulated water in pot.

Bring apples to boil and simmer for about 40 minutes, occasionally mixing to break up apples.

Strain apple pulp in chinois or sieve lined with a double layer of regular cheesecloth.  Do not press down on apples if you would like a clear juice (not important if you will be using it for a dark jam).  This may take several hours.

Add 4 1/4 cups of the juice into a preserving pan with the rest of the lemon juice and  sugar.  Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until it is set.  Let sit for 5 minutes and skim any foam, if necessary.

Ladle jelly into hot, sterilized canning jars with 1/4 inch headspace, and fit with properly prepared two-piece lids. (Refer to a canning basics guide if you don’t know what this means.)  Process for 5 minutes in a waterbath canner.

jam plans: our heroine dreams of a mobile future

I’m happy to report I bought the rest of my berries for Jam 2012 today: raspberries, Marionberries, and blueberries.  Everything’s going in the freezer so I can make jam when I’m able to stand on my own two feet. The raspberries will be mixed in a red fruit jam with my own gooseberries and currants, above.  The Marionberries will be augmented with a little Clear Creek Crème de Cassis, I think, and the blueberries will go into next year’s Haskapberry jam.

Probably not the best jam year in the world, since the fruit (other than the blueberries) is ending its season, and the very best time to jam, and when I usually jam, is when the fruit is new on the vine and the ripeness doesn’t lead to overly sweet, almost cooked flabbiness.  Not to mention, of course, the small alterations one finds in frozen fruit jam.  But that’s ok.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it at all.

I also bought cherries to make pickled cherries, which I should be able to do from the wheelchair, and apricots, which should make a quart of brandied apricots.  Barely enough, but I’m thinking small.

It killed me not to buy pickling cucumbers, as they’re up now at Thistledown Farm in 10# bags, the sweet little ones that make the best fermented pickles.  But apparently, there is no room in the refrigerator, and I’m out of energy anyway.

For those of you who are curious, my knee is doing well.  Still don’t know when I’ll be able to put my foot down (literally or figuratively) so it’s the wheelchair for a few more weeks.  Sad about this, but know it’s healing as it should.

last jam of summer: prune plum

Prune plums, also known as Italian plums, Fellenberg plums, and quetsche, are in season, fleetingly.  With this year’s weather problems that affect stone fruit set in the orchards ’round these parts, they’re small both in size and number.  But if you can get your hands on them, they’re a great beginner jam, and make a beautifully colored jar of late summer.

Prune plums grow quite well in Western Oregon (when our weather cooperates), and you might even have your own backyard tree.  A beautiful black-blue with a significant bloom, the Fellenberg is a delight; a local varietal, the Brooks prune plum, is almost as good. The flesh is relatively firm in these sweet, dense little nuggets.  Don’t substitute regular round, juicy plums in this recipe, as it will be too liquid to set.

The natural sugar (and apparently, this includes sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that digests more slowly than glucose) is very concentrated, so you don’t need to add much for a safe, tasty jam.  And no pectin is necessary, either.  You can opt to cook the jam quickly and just until the gel point, or cook it down more slowly, which will deepen the flavor and thicken the jam to a paste similar to the Eastern European lekvar, which uses the same type of plum. We’ve been switching back and forth from lekvar I brought back from Prague and my fresh prune plum jam with abandon, and it tastes like two completely different fruits.

I like to add a bit of slivovitz, the notorious plum brandy that also hails from the East.  It highlights the plummy flavors in the same manner kirsch does for cherries, instead of providing a boozy flavor of its own.

Linda Ziedrich‘s recipe — and I trust her technique all the more when it comes to prunes, having grown up among prune plum orchards — calls for cooking the fruit first a bit before adding the sugar.  This will help soften the skins.  My version just chops up the pieces smaller, since I like the little bits of skin in the jam.  You may adjust the recipe accordingly.

The fennel seeds are just now plump and green and ready for drying, absolutely at their prime.  I’m sorry if you can’t get fresh ones for the jam because they’re best if you can crush them to a little green pulp.  Consider replacing the slivovitz with absinthe or Pernod, perhaps, and pretend you’re in Alsace.

Prune Plum Jam with Fennel Seed

Makes 4 half-pints.

  • 2 lbs. prune plums, pitted
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh fennel seed, crushed to release flavor (or substitute aniseed)
  • 1 tablespoon slivovitz (optional)

Pit and cut prune plums into small pieces.  No need to peel, but if you’re patient and bored, go for it and adjust the recipe so you include a couple more plums to make up for loss of volume.  (You might, if you’re peeling, make lekvar, a long-cooked version of this jam — prune butter, really — that’s popular in Eastern Europe.  Just cook it down, stirring constantly, until the fruit pulp is concentrated into a thick paste.)

Add sugar, lemon juice, and fennel seed to bowl.  To maximize flavor and help with floating fruit, let sit on the counter for a few hours, or overnight in refrigerator.

Cook down over medium high heat until jam thickens (perhaps 45 minutes?), stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot. Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions.

When jam is at set point, remove from heat and stir in optional slivovitz.

Spoon the hot jam into jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.